Averting The Apocalypse: JWT's 'Rape Guy' Resigns

  • by March 17, 2016
So J. Walter Thompson CEO Gustavo Martinez, who’s enmeshed in an ongoing harassment suit, has resigned. The news was announced Thursday, March 17, by WPP. He’ll be replaced by Tamara Ingram, most recently chief client team officer at WPP.

Hallelujah. In showing Martinez to the nearest exit, the holding company has come a long way, baby — maybe about 60 years in 24 hours?

Its initial reaction was chillingly sexist and straight out of the Sterling Cooper playbook: After JWT’s chief communications officer Erin Johnson’s lawsuit was filed on Feb. 25, she was sent home on leave and hung out to dry. As for Martinez, JWT was quick to circle the wagons once Johnson’s suit went viral, with the CEO aggressively denying the “outrageous claims” and looking forward to his day in court.

Indeed, I hadn’t seen such vintage-style stonewalling since Richard Nixon denied a certain break-in.

And even though the stonewall lasted less than a week (and that changed only because Johnson’s lawyers filed an amendment, a smoking gun, on March 14) it was still a kick in the gut for women.



The message seemed to be “Sexism is alive and well, you will never be heard, so shut your mouths!”

Certainly, none of the professional women I knew could even bear reading past the first page of the 28-page legal brief without wanting to barf. (And, with sinking hearts, immediately knowing that Martinez was guilty as sin.)

That’s because it all felt so sickeningly familiar. Getting into the specific complaints dredged up so much trauma that ad women started flooding my mailbox with their own excruciating harassment stories from the 1980s and 1990s.  

But it’s 2016, for God's sake. After Anita Hill, weren’t companies forced to put systems and protocols in place to deal with harassment?

Even by “Mad Men”-era standards, Martinez's actions, as spelled out in the suit, were deplorable. The stories of his “joking” phrases like, “Come here, I want to rape you in the bathroom,” uttered in front of Johnson’s entire team, have been widely disseminated. As were his frequent outbursts about the “too many Jews” in Westchester and “black monkeys” and “apes” at airport customs.

When he called Johnson too “bossy,” it was almost funny. “Bossy” has by now become such a cliché in the arena of female putdowns that Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg started a whole campaign last year about banning the word.

Less-commented-on, though even more repulsive, were Martinez's sick, entitled power moves, designed to be psychologically crippling. Twice, as reported in the suit, when Johnson was eating an apple in the office, he grabbed the fruit from her hand and took a big bite, and then returned it to her. Symbolism much? She offered him his own apple, but he wouldn’t take it. He needed to mark his territory.

According to the suit, Johnson had gone through all the proper channels to report the behavior, and even suggested sensitivity training for the CEO, (and in so doing, was trying to save the agency from what she could see would be a ticking time-bomb.) Still, nothing was done.

The final straw was that JWT sent around a form for all employees to sign, agreeing that they’d never witnessed illegal activity taking place at the agency. This forced Johnson’s hand. She could not sign in good faith, and unleashed the suit.

But by the 14, when Johnson’s lawyers amended the suit with a copy of a tape of Martinez’s  reportedly racist speech in Miami, WPP changed its tune and hired outside legal and PR counsel. Obviously, the case at that point came down less as “He said/she said,” than, “He said, and then endlessly repeated all of this heinous shit, so it can all easily be corroborated.”  There wasn’t much for the outside firm to investigate.

“This is such a disaster!" Kat Gordon, the founder of the 3 Percent Conference, told me in a conversation we had before news of Martinez’s exit broke.

The ironies add up: Gordon, whose conference aims to raise the woefully low (now 11%) number of female creative directors in the industry, said that when she was invited to be on a JWT Panel about female creatives at the Cannes Lions Festival, Martinez was in the front row of the audience, smiling, along with JWT’s chief talent officer, Laura Agostini (whom Johnson had emailed repeatedly with her harassment complaints, to no avail).

For its 150th anniversary, JWT developed a scholarship program for deserving women in third-world countries, in the name of Helen Landsdowne Resor, the agency’s — and industry’s—first female copywriter.

“I don’t have a problem that it happened,” Gordon said. “It happens all the time in banks and law firms. What poisons the company is the lack of follow-through on stated policy for the handling of such cases.”

She also added that her company had done research among creative women last year, that showed that 23% had seen or experienced sexual harassment, and only 8% said the responsible party was punished.

The plot thickens with the announcement of Martinez' resignation. Is this merely damage control, scapegoating Martinez (an obvious outlier) when the entire culture that propped him up and allowed it to happen is still in place?

Cindy Gallop, founder/CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn, and former chairman of BBH New York, also saw this coming. She told me before the resignation that “If WPP and JWT continue down this path, where they are setting out to destroy Erin Johnson in court, they are going to destroy themselves along with her.”

Now that Martinez has left the building, Gallop told me, “WPP and JWT -- and obviously, by that I mean Martin Sorrell -- need to do something that won't come easily to them, or rather, to him. They/he need to show genuine remorse, shame, humility and self-awareness, and to be willing to learn from this, and accept help and advice to completely transform the culture and the leadership that allowed the appalling details of that lawsuit to happen.”

I also spoke to Nancy Vonk, who started her own feminist firestorm when she outed the ghastly, anti-woman ravings of industry legend Neil French 10 years ago after he spoke in Toronto. She had a slightly more hopeful outlook. She agreed that while “the system is broken in businesses of all kinds, it can absolutely be changed. Now seems like a good time for company leaders to reflect on what that will take."

The suit is still active, with JWT, WPP, and Gustavo Martinez’s attorneys still working together versus Johnson. But with Martinez’s exit, at least in the short term, the industry dodged an apocalypse. Perhaps now is the time to help the female talent become undead.

25 comments about "Averting The Apocalypse: JWT's 'Rape Guy' Resigns".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, March 17, 2016 at 9:26 p.m.

    Excellent coverage of this story. The industry may have dodged an apocalypse, for now, but it's far from over. What I see from your narrative and the overall condition of the industry, is that changes such as more women in the highest levels of power, or diversity, mostly come about because of the "permission" of the true owners.

    Holding company executives like Martin Sorrell still allow the diversity initiatives. The way this episode was handled, it appears that WPP was willing to back Martinez up until the smoking gun. Which shows any real change was not forthcoming.

    I'm going by what I have read both in print and between the lines for this story. So there may be other interpretations. On the other hand, this industry has always been about appearances. And this just looks bad.

  2. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, March 17, 2016 at 9:38 p.m.

    And another thing. If you need to be told to show genuine remorse, shame, humility and self-awareness, it means you don't have it.

  3. Erik Sass from none, March 17, 2016 at 9:55 p.m.

    His appearance at a conference about increasing female presence in the industry reminds me of Donald Sterling getting an NAACP award -- the bigger the lie, the more likely it will be believed. I also wonder if she may still be subject to diffuse retaliation in the long run: there is no shortage of whistleblowers who have called out sexual harrassment, were vindicated in their claims, and still suffered in their careers for daring to make trouble.

  4. Barbara Lippert from, March 18, 2016 at 9:56 a.m.

    Yes, Erin is brave. The other thing that I wanted to add: Sir Martin Sorrell is scheduled to speak at several  major conferences in the next few weeks. I'm sure he wanted to avoid having questions about the "rape guy" suit dogging him at every appearance. 
    And earlier in the week, Martinez cancelled his upcoming speaking engagement at the 4As.

  5. Tobi Elkin from MediaPost, March 18, 2016 at 10:43 a.m.

    Great column, Barbara. Erin is brave beyond measure. That this crap is still going on in 2016 sucks. The audacity, recklessness and sense of entitlement are incredible. Shame on an agency culture that allows this. Thankfully, JWT swiftly installed a new chief.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 18, 2016 at 10:43 a.m.

    Keep asking them all about the "rape guy". Keep asking them about all their comments. In this selfishie world of always on, there are no records of his other (and others) actions ? The saying about how bad happens when good men do nothing is about women, too. Of course there will be a price to pay like moving on to less financially rewarding jobs or tough to even find one, but it has to be done. (I got dumped from an out of town job to make room for another man on the sales force since I was the only woman. Then they decided to put all kinds of lies into my folder. I had to go to the EEOC in the state to fight it. Finally, the lawyer for the station had to say to the manager that if they don't take it out of my file - for future employers - I could take this further and they would have to fight for their license. So they did. The EEOC told me what happened for settlement for which there was not 1 cent compensation. They got to keep another male inexperienced stooge. Note: I was the highest sales producer. Then I got blacklisted as I was told by an old friend in the business who was not supposed to tell me. Another reason this persona non gratia now knows MP can't fire me or destroy me anymore than I have been. More stories, but this one will do now.) 

  7. Chuck Lantz from, network, March 18, 2016 at 10:59 a.m.

    After reading this article, and Paula Lynn's experience, all I can add is that change is sickeningly slow in matters such as these. What will help speed things up a bit is for more men to offer more than simply support from the sidelines, but actual involvement in forcing change.  

  8. Tony Nino from PADV Pasadena Advertising replied, March 18, 2016 at 1:02 p.m.

    My only qualm with your extraordinary coverage was the comment, "The message seemed to be “Sexism is alive and well, you will never be heard, so shut your mouths!”
    I only wish that were true. The message was, is and always has been 'sexism is alive" and shut your mouths. We cannot forget that. We cannot look the other way, or worse, as is all too often the case, wink and nod. Thank goodness, Erin's battle is currently being won, but for our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters out there in the workplace, let's not lose sight of the truth.
    Thank you, Barbara, so much for this excellent piece. And thank you, Erin, for your courage.


  9. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, March 18, 2016 at 1:16 p.m.

    Wonder what would happen if this court decision could be appealed today.

  10. Don Perman from self, March 18, 2016 at 2:09 p.m.

    Great reporting and column.

  11. Susan Klein from Oculus Marketing, March 18, 2016 at 2:41 p.m.

    The heinousness quotient of this story is so mind-blowingly excessive it verges on cartoon-like. These scenes would be over-the-top if they were in 'Putney Swope'. Beyond simply installing a new chief, JWT and (based on my experience at Ogilvy,) many other large agencies must invest in wholesale self-examination and culture change at every conceivable level. It's disgusting to see that nothing has changed since my first junior copywriting job out of college where I was told to wear my "hot pants" whenever the client was coming in.

  12. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health replied, March 18, 2016 at 2:41 p.m.

    Actually that CBS column smacks of the same attitudes it's reporting on and the situation at JWT/WPP now.

  13. Barbara Lippert from, March 18, 2016 at 2:47 p.m.

    It is depressing to note that most agencies are still boys clubs, and (to generalize grossly) to succeed, women there have to learn to be one of the boys. It's difficult: you have to be young, skinny, "hot" but not girlie.  

  14. Darrin Stephens from McMann & Tate, March 18, 2016 at 4:01 p.m.

    "That cake ain't gonna bake itself." -- Michael Che

  15. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, March 18, 2016 at 4:08 p.m.

    I hope the litigation proceeds all the way to court, in which case we will see documentary evidence of systemic sexism, systemic denial, systemic stonewalling and (my guess) an evil strategy of personal destruction instead of apology and action.  This will prove for WPP to be pennywise and pound suicidal.  What I wouldn't give to see the chain of emails, but this is not an organization that makes imortant decisions from the middlle.

    WPP board, it's the 11th hour....
    do you know where your chairman is?

  16. Barbara Lippert from, March 18, 2016 at 9:20 p.m.

    pennywise and pound suicidal = priceless!

  17. Ruth Ayres from Momentum Worldwide, March 18, 2016 at 9:47 p.m.

    For some reason the apple biting thing pushed my buttons emotionally.  Thank goodness Erin was able to maintain her composure.  You know me, Barbara, I would have flown across the desk and made sure that was the last solid food he ate for a VERY long time. Which would have put me behind bars and accomplished nothing.  Damn!

  18. Jim English from The Met Museum, March 18, 2016 at 11:25 p.m.

    Just thinking of Trumpism. CEO arrogance acceptable in workplace. Trump conduct affecting adland too.

  19. Dave Brody from Purch, March 19, 2016 at 11:36 a.m.

    Some Mad Men are Bad Men.
    [Time wounds all heels.]

  20. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt, March 19, 2016 at 1:25 p.m.

    Same shit different era.

  21. George Parker from Parker Consultants, March 19, 2016 at 7 p.m.

    Here's a comment I left on an AdAge article...

    This is not necessarily about sexism, this is about a senior executive who thought because of his position he could get away with anything. Back in my “Mad Man” days in New York in the sixties, yes, we would attempt to seduce the female members of staff, but it would be because of a perceived mutual attraction, and it would be done over martinis at the Gotham Hotel, rather than in a conference room accompanied by threats of rape. Even weirder is that evidence was piling up of his racist and sexist behavior and he thought he was unassailable. Plus when ranting on about Jews, didn’t he have the brains to realize the Sorrell is Jewish? Perhaps it’s time for JWT to go back to being “Commercial Anthropologists.” Ha, that didn’t last long. Just like when they changed their name to J. Walter Thompson from JWT, then changed it back again. I hope Erin takes them to the cleaners… As for his choices of senior management, never forget, Sir Martin only trousered a pathetic $90 million last year!

    The comment was up for a couple of minutes, and then disapeared... Damn, and I didn't say f**k once. As a one time AdWeek's greatest columnist, do you think the Poisoned Dwarf has even more power than we can imagine?


  22. George Parker from Parker Consultants, March 19, 2016 at 7:01 p.m.

    Oooops... It was an AdWeek article.

  23. Barbara Lippert from, March 20, 2016 at 7:15 p.m.

    One thing I didnt have room to get into: once Gustavo found out that Erin was reporting him, he cut her bonus and left her out of key meetings. 

  24. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, March 21, 2016 at 10:33 a.m.

    Excellent piece, Barbara, but for me, the most remarkable aspects of this story are that 1) this dirtbag got away with this behavior for so long until a single brave and persistent individual stood up to him, and 2) none of the people who hired him and presumably spent time with him at executive gatherings found anything about him concerning. Either he was self-aware enough to curb his behavior in those situations or they share or choose to tolerate his bad attitudes. 

  25. Barbara Lippert from, March 23, 2016 at 2:19 p.m.

    Dean Fox-- exactly. I know that others at executive gatherings did indeed observe his behavior. I have no idea why they didn't think it was concerning enough to stop it. Instead, they propped him up. If this isn't fair warning about how one pathological harasser can bring down an empire, I don't know what would be. 

Next story loading loading..